5 Meaningful Things That Happened When I Forced Myself To Read For 30 Minutes Every Day

Okay, forced might be too strong a word—the perks were pretty awesome.

May 16, 2017
woman reading book
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I’ll never forget the book that made me fall in love with reading: A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving. It was the summer between grade 10 and 11, I grabbed it from the family bookcase, and was hooked from the first line. That book followed me everywhere—to quiet corners in my house, to the beach, to bed—and each page I fell more and more in love. 

Life is always better with a good book. This is something I say often, but somewhere between all the grown-up responsibilities of life and having kids of my own, reading just for fun left my lexicon. Don’t get me wrong, I still read—I’ve been reading the Harry Potter series to my kids every night for years and always go to bed with a book myself—but as of late it’s one page and done. It’s not that the book isn’t good; I’m just so tired when I hit the hay that reading works like an instant Ambien. Zzzz…

Related: It's Official: Reading Makes You Happy

Time to make reading more of a priority. Forgot the no-time excuse, or that reading is reserved for the end of the day; I decided to dedicate 30 minutes a day to one of my favorite past times, no exceptions. My plan: to crack open a book in the morning, afternoon, or whenever the page-turning urge struck. Here’s what happened when I did. 

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reading book in bed
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​I felt guilty… like, so guilty

The first day I fired up my iPad in the middle of the day to read felt like eating dessert before dinner or skipping out on school—like I was breaking the rules and sure to get caught. And the mailman did sort of catch me, walked right by me on the porch as I brazenly read while he worked. I was too embarrassed to take my eyes up from the screen. If it were night I wouldn’t have thought twice about it, but reading during daylight hours felt like a no-no, but why? It wasn’t like I was scrolling through TMZ or creeping exes on Facebook—I was reading, a noble pursuit. So I shifted my perspective and put reading back in the good-for-my-brain category where it belonged, and my guilt began to dissipate.

Related: 8 Ways To Stop Feeling So Guilty All The Time 

woman reading book with glasses
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I got smarter (at least I think)

Not only does research show that reading can build vocabulary growth and cognitive skills in children, it can keep the brain sharp as we age and even fend off Alzheimer’s. In one study published in Neurology, engaging in brain-stimulating activities like reading meant a 32 percent slower rate of cognitive decline later in life, while a study published in Brain Connectivity found that digging into a good book can enhance neural pathways and even increase a person’s empathy. Did I feel any smarter? Nah, but reading certainly doesn’t put my brain in sleep mode like binge-watching Top Chef. A good book can make my mind feel alive, alert, and full of possibilities; building better synapses was just an added bonus. 

stack of books
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​I watched way less TV (and fell in love with reading again)

Not that I watch a ton of TV, but unwinding with an episode of Modern Family or Veep or Big Little Lies before bed has become a habit. My bookworm experiment stopped that. Turns out all it took was actually getting into the book (rather than falling asleep midsentence) to get back the romance of reading. As well as my 30 minutes of reading during the day, I’d skip nighttime TV to get to bed early with that same bated-breath anticipation I felt as a kid so I could find out what happened with Manon Bradshaw in Missing, Presumed, or Auggie Pullman in Wonder, or Kahneman and Tversky in The Undoing Project. All of the above were as visually alive in my head as any TV show and I couldn’t wait for the next episode… I mean chapter. 

Related: 5 Herbalists Reveal Their Go-To Remedies For Stress, Poor Sleep, And More

woman reading book that's covering face
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It got me out of my own head

Losing yourself in a book is legit. As soon as I picked up the pages, life froze. The to-do lists disappeared, the tsunami of work deadlines died out, and all the mental swirls went quiet. It was like pressing the pause button on my sh*t and slipping into another world. I’ve already mentioned that seeing the world through a different set of eyes can increase our capacity for real-life empathy, but reading is also a proven way to relax and de-stress. Researchers from the University of Sussex found that even 6 minutes of reading can reduce stress by 68 percent, including slowing your heart rate and easing muscle tension. Now, I don’t have a stress-o-meter or heart rate monitor, but like yoga, exercise, and meditation, reading works like self-medication on my monkey mind. Instant calm. (Check out this simple trick to calm your anxiety without the help of pills.)


book and tea on bed
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I read for longer than 30 minutes and still got all my sh*t done

The first day or two I logged my minimum 30 minutes, game myself a check, and promptly shut down my iPad. But my 30 minutes of reading soon turned to 40 and longer, and guess what? Nothing disastrous happened. The world didn’t fall apart, the laundry didn’t pile up, and I still met all my work deadlines. Actually, something pretty amazing happened: I felt lighter. Adding something of pure enjoyment to my day, something that nourished my body, mind and spirit, gave me a little more spring in my step. In fact, I liked it so much I didn’t stop after a week... I just kept right on going. I have a lot to look forward to in a day, but it doesn’t hurt to add one more to the list. Speaking of which, it’s time for me to get back to my book. I need to find out how it ends. 

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